When I was seven or eight years old, I remember my second grade teacher asking the class for their favourite animal. I waved my hand and waited patiently to be called. When my turn finally came, I gave this enthusiastic answer: I have two favourite animals! Turtles and snails!
Mrs. Scott was intrigued. That’s unusual. Why turtles and snails? And I knew, oh I knew why I liked them – more than cats and dogs and lions and all the other animals that had been named. I liked turtles and snails, I said, Because wherever they are, they’re home.
I loved this thing about having your home with you wherever you are. That when the need for shelter and comfort (physical and otherwise) arose, you could just pull yourself inwards and be perfectly safe and content.
Throughout my travels, I was always so happy to be where I was and considered myself the best type of Global Citizen: Appreciative, friendly and at ease anywhere. The irony of it all then, when we got married and decided to settle in the UK and I found myself completely not at home. This kind of migration, one that happened in the best of circumstances and which I chose with my entire madly-in-love heart, is the kind that too many people don’t have as they forced to traverse the globe. And yet, even knowing this, I hadn’t expected the transition to be so challenging.
I adored my sweet husband and treasured our home together but outside of that bubble, it was tough to be in a place where nobody knows you beyond how you are connected to your spouse. I missed the friends who knew me before I lost my baby teeth. I missed the city that I could navigate with ease and speed. I missed conversations without sarcasm. But most of all I missed my family. I missed my parents. I missed home.
After all this time, I still find it hard coming back to this island. Everything seems small and crowded, the sky too close and the people too cold. I attempt to strengthen myself with power stances and prayer as I ready myself every morning to face the day – trying not to think about how much easier it could all be if only my parents lived down the road or my sister a half-hour away. How simple to drop in for a cup of tea and a chat. How lovely for the children to have so many more loving adults close by. I remind myself not to be ungrateful. To see the blessings as they fall around me. I wish I could blame this country but it hasn’t done anything wrong – only that it doesn’t contain all the people I love the most.
Allah says, Be thankful to Me, and to thy parents; to Me is the homecoming. (Qu’ran 31:14).
Never did I feel or connect to this verse more than when I left my parents house. In my heart, theirs will always be my most deeply rooted home, the one in which I was raised, nurtured, cherished and protected. My gratefulness for this sanctuary knows no bounds and that is why leaving, even after a visit, is still difficult. And yet, the truth is, I know that if I can’t manage to be apart from my parents for 3,000 odd miles, how will I ever be able to contemplate an eternity without them?!
And so, here is the straight-up, best way to be at home wherever your life takes you: It is to remember that the ultimate home is the one to strive for.
One where there are no partings and no goodbyes, only an endless coming together in joy and the company of ALL whom you love. Can you imagine it? Every single person you’ve ever loved in the same place… forever.
Knowing this, I am inspired to do better. To be better. To ask Allah for mercy, for grace, for gratitude and contentment – so that I may be one of those people who are truly thankful.
And when that is the focus, all the good around us becomes clear and vibrant. We can better see the gifts we are given and there are days like today – gorgeous, exquisite, soul-quenching days – where I remember that I am here in this place at this moment for some special reason, even if I don’t yet know what it is. That my experiences compel me to build communities where others will feel less lonely. And that I am privileged to have many homes around the world, so much so that when travelling my children ask if we are going to our England Home or Canada Home, Scotland Home or London Home – each place filled with people who love us without reserve.
Many years ago I read that “your place is where Allah places you”. Whether in this realm or the next, your home has been especially chosen just for you. And while mine is not quite a turtle shell, I’ll revel in it anyways. MashAllah.